Roving Reports

Roving Reports: Two Days of Epsom

Whilst the title of the piece suggests I'm only away from home two days, as anyone that works The Derby will tell you, it feels like an awful lot longer, writes David Massey.

The days are long and, for a fair part, boring. That's down to Epsom's policy of having bookmakers in place before a single paying customer is in the track. I can, to an extent, understand that in some areas; for instance, where we will be betting in the Lonsdale Enclosure, which is where you see all those double-decker buses in the middle of the track, the buses themselves are told to be in for a certain time. However, our pick time on the Friday is 10am and on Derby Day, 9.30am. Usually that would mean a 4 1/2 hour gap before the first, so you're sat down reading the paper or chatting to fellow bookmakers to kill time, but with the first at 12.50 this year that means the dead time is considerably reduced.

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. It's Thursday evening and we are on our way down, staying in Addlestone, about half an hour from the course. I'm delighted with that as it means a trip to the excellent Bread And Roses for breakfast. (Tim: "Do you ever think about anything other than food?" Me: "Yes, racing"). This, of course, is to avoid any M1/M25 pitfalls on the Friday morning and whilst it means more expenses, it's the right thing to do.

I know this as when we do arrive Friday at 9.15 am, Jerry, one of the best known workmen on the track and a thoroughly nice bloke to boot, divulges that he's been there since half seven. "It was only just light when we set off," he informs us. "I'm told we've got to be here for half six tomorrow." His face tells a picture of what agony that is going to bring. I suddenly feel rather lucky that I'll be getting up at seven tomorrow morning.

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Anyway, our team of six (we are running three pitches) get the gear out and that includes the extra bit of essential kit you require for the Derby meeting. As well as laptops, batteries, lightboards and the like, deckchairs are a must. Quite simply, if you don't, there's nothing to sit on, with all the available room required for the buses to park up in.

Martin, aka BMW, is reminiscing about the time when he used to bet on The Hill back in the 80s. "Teenoso's Derby. I remember that well", he says. "Well, me and Tim [also on the team this weekend] rocked up late, didn't we? We were both suited and booted and I'd managed to get hold of a "moody" [for those unaware, this is racing parlance for fake] Lyons caterer's pass, they catered for the Royals in those days. The bloke on the gate stopped us and looked at my pass. 'You're a bit late, aren't you?' he says. I tell him we got held up traffic. 'No, I mean that pass. It's about six years out of date!' Well, now we're stuck aren't we? I've one last dice to roll. "Look, pal, whilst you're arguing with me about that pass, the Queen's strawberries are going off in the back of the van. We need to get them into a fridge and quick!" At this point your man decides he can't take any chances, with a queue building up behind us, and waves us in. We got betting and won a carpet on the day."

Such larks, eh? Wouldn't happen these days... 😉

We decide to get betting around 1pm but it is very slow to get going. The buses are still having lunch and nobody wants to strike a wager. I'm betting with Col in pick 1 today, the best pick by a mile in the Lonsdale, but even here it's slow business. Last year, the train strike really had an effect at York and it appears it is having the same effect today. How bad we won't know until the end of the weekend, but normally the grass around would be covered in picnickers and there's a lot of green still visible.

The racing starts and Bobsleigh and Austrian Theory are both decent results in the first two but, as ever, the Frankie factor kicks in when it's big-race time and the payout queue is a long one after Emily Upjohn hoses up in the Coronation Cup. As was pointed out by Ian of IG Racing after, "the book is so lop-sided when Frankie rides on big days there's simply nothing you can do about it. You shorten it and shorten it again, but it doesn't matter, they just plough in regardless. Nothing you can do expect pray." They aren't answered in the Oaks either, with Soul Sister getting the better of the favourite.

The rest of the day passes by without incident or highlight, and at stumps we look at how business has been. Over 50% down. And expenses up. As it stands, they aren't yet covered for the two days, and we have work to do Saturday.

The inevitable early, and indeed cold, start on Saturday. We arrive at 8.25am and the first thing to notice is the increased security presence. I walk to the other side of the track and am stopped twice in the space of 200yds over there. You can't fart without someone being there to ask what you're up to.

I do a bit of work in the Press Room to pass the time, but by 10am I'm back in place at the joint. There aren't anywhere near as many buses as last year, with some big gaps where they usually are. They should put some seats in.

Those on foot are allowed in half an hour later, and the rush to get the best picnic spots is on. It's very much like when they open the gates at Cheltenham, only that's for the seats. That isn't going to happen here.

I ask the ice-cream lady if I can have a share in her van today if I give her a point bigger all bets she has with us. I think that's a great deal, personally, but at £4 a pop (that includes a Flake) she decides she'll take her chances in the sun.

With the earlier start we get betting at 11.30 but, again, it's steady away. I spend more of my time shifting the public from my betting area ("behind the line, please") than I do taking bets. Four doors down from me, a group of lads have set a trestle table up and are already into the drinking games. A long afternoon in store for the bookmaker they're in front of.

There's normally a bit of banter with the punters on days like this but this year has a strange feel to it. This isn't what I would call a "normal" Derby crowd. Sure, the picnickers are out in force but other than that, it seems like a very top-heavy young lads crowd. And most are not interested in having a bet, merely seeing how much ale they can get down them in as short a space of time. Twice I have to ask a small crowd of them to move on, as they're standing right in front of the joint, but every time they shuffle one way or the other, they're back in front of me within five minutes. Rare I raise my voice but, unless I do, I'm not going to take any bets. So I have to get stern and thankfully, Christian Holland, the bookmaker to my right, throws his two penn'orth in as well. This has the desired effect and they finally move themselves, along with about half a dozen Sainsbury's carrier bags full of cans.

Regal Reality was well backed for the first, and gets plenty of punters off to a winning start, and then it's Derby time. I don't need to tell you what the punters want to back, do I?

Arrest, and only Arrest. One-horse book again. However, he's already sweating up badly as he goes past me to post and by the time he's down at the start looks very wound up and on his toes. I feel like we might get a result.

There's no sign of any protests as they start to go behind, and in all honesty, as betting has all but finished, I'm looking up and down our rails for any signs of activity. There are none. The last one goes in and they're off. I stand down off the joint to get an apple out my bag and watch the race when a roar goes up. We do now have a protester and he's no more than 100yds away from me. Did I miss him? Was he in our enclosure after all? It appears not - he's come from Tatts and is now running across the course. It's all over in the blink of an eye, though, as he's nowhere to go and the police do an excellent job in getting him off in under 20 seconds. After the race he's literally carried out, with a few choice words in his ear from racegoers.

Arrest - well-named for the protester - is well beaten, so we're bound to win, although from a personal perspective I'd have loved King Of Steel to have held on, if only because I could say I saw him win on debut...

Strangely, the public desert Frankie for the Princess Elizabeth - maybe they don't think it's his day - but they are wrong to do so as he gets up on Prosperous Voyage. I've laid a £200 bet at 6-4 on my pitch but other than that, there isn't any decent money around.

In fact there are long periods of not taking a bet at all as the afternoon progresses. The trains not running have killed business again. Navello is a skinner in the Dash, I take £800 on the race and have the grand sum of £47.50 to pay out. Torito and Sheer Rocks are both okay results but, as ever, and in order to get out the track as quickly as possible, you pray to The Last Race Gods for a result and we get one, with Badri a cracker, other than the guy who had £40ew (with the fractions, natch) at 12s.

We're packed and in the car for six, the best result of the day by far. I see Jerry in the car park, and bless him he looks done in. "I think", he offers, "if I'm asked 'do you want to work The Derby?' next year, I might have a dental appointment, or be at someone's wedding..."

Sadly, we bump into the Wembley traffic on the way home and the M1 is a nightmare. Never mind. We're heading back to the Midlands and that's all that matters. Southwell on Tuesday, you know. Give me the Rolleston Massive any day of the week!

- DM

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